The discovery of the largest ancient city ever discovered in Egypt has been announced, offering an opportunity to put the focus on the ordinary people of the era, in contrast to those buried in dazzling tombs.
Some 3,400 years ago the Pharaoh Amenhotep III ruled over a city near Luxor, opposite the Valley of the Kings, before it became buried beneath Egypt's desert sands. Now it has been found again, and Egyptologists are describing it as the most important archaeological discovery in Egypt since Amenhotep III's grandson Tutankhamun's tomb was unearthed in 1922. Like that famous discovery, this one dates to the 18th Dynasty, arguably the peak of Egypt's power.
Egyptian archaeologist and former Minister of Antiquities Dr Zahi Hawass announced the discovery on his Facebook page, revealing an astonishing amount has been achieved in seven months while keeping the find from leaking to the wider world. The city is being called “The Rise of Aten” or “The Lost Golden City”. Mud brick walls, some 3 meters (10 feet) high, remain standing, and rooms are filled with items such as rings and pottery that somehow managed to avoid being ransacked after its puzzling abandonment. Many items bear Amenhotep III's mark.
Already the functions of many of the numerous spaces have been identified, including an administrative area, a bakery, major kitchen, and a residential district. Hawass describes the city as “The largest administrative and industrial settlement in the era of the Egyptian empire on the western bank of Luxor.” Numerous casting molds were used to produce decorations for temples and tombs. A vessel containing about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of cooked meat comes with an inscription of its year and the festival it was prepared for.
The administrative area has only a single entrance, which Hawass thinks “[w]as some sort of security, with the ability to control entry and exit to enclosed areas.” It is also partially bounded by walls built in a wave shape. Although rare in ancient Egypt, the examples we do have of this style of building mostly date to the 18th dynasty. It was subsequently adopted by many other cultures because it provides more strength than straight walls without the need to add a second layer of bricks.
"The discovery of the Lost City, not only will give us a rare glimpse into the life of the Ancient Egyptians at the time where the Empire was at his wealthiest but will help us shed light on one of history's greatest mystery: why did Akhenaten & Nefertiti decide to move to Amarna,” Professor Betsy Brian of John Hopkins University said in a statement.
Hawass was not looking for the city when he began digging at the site. Instead, he said he was searching for Tutankhamun's mortuary temple, which is distinct from his famous tomb, and has never been found.
Amenhotep III ruled Egypt for 38 years when it was perhaps the mightiest empire the world had yet seen. He is best known today because the tomb of his grandson, Tutankhamun, survived largely unrobbed until modern times allowing its treasures to tour the world. The announcement could hardly come at a better time for Egypt, whose tourism industry, already hit by high-profile acts of terrorism, has been devastated by COVID-19. In an attempt to bring back the visitors who underpin the economy, Egypt recently held a parade of 22 mummified pharaohs, Amenhotep III included, as they were moved from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, Cairo to the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, located about 3 miles (5 kilometers) away.